Can a lawmaker uphold Constitution yet aid insurrectionists? Short answer: No

Increasing numbers of Republicans are joining Democrats in Congress condemning last week’s Republican National Committee statement defending the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection as “legitimate political discourse.” Exasperation and frustration are growing on both sides of the aisle over the lack of accountability for lawmakers who cheered on the insurrection. At long last, real consequences could be on the horizon.

In North Carolina, the bipartisan state elections board said Monday it has the power to block Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn from seeking reelection. He is challenging the board’s authority in court. A group of lawyers hopes to depose Cawthorn as part of that case about any role he might have played. If they’re successful under North Carolina law, he could be banned from federal elective office. The challenge could form the basis for blocking former President Donald Trump from a 2024 bid as well.


The crux of the lawyers’ argument is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bans anyone who engages in insurrection or has “given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof” from holding civil or elective federal office. Simply put, someone sworn to uphold the Constitution cannot comply with that oath while supporting sedition.

The lawyers include two former North Carolina Supreme Court judges.

They hope to compel testimony from Cawthorn — a feat that members of the House select committee investigating the insurrection have failed to accomplish so far involving other members of Congress who appeared to support the uprising.

One of them, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, has refused to voluntarily appear before the committee to explain his actions, including a 10-minute phone call he had with Trump on the morning of the insurrection.

Other questions remain about potential coordination by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and others to contest Joe Biden’s election confirmation as Trump was directing protesters to march on the Capitol.

Hawley raised a fist in support as the mob converged on Capitol Hill.

Trump didn’t just encourage the protesters, he waited more than three hours after the bloodshed had started before calling rioters off. That’s why Trump also might credibly face the same 14th Amendment challenge should he try to run in 2024.

In addition to egging on the attackers, Cawthorn told attendees at a rally weeks before to “call your congressman and feel free — you can lightly threaten them” with words like “I’m coming after you. … Everybody’s coming after you.” He later warned of “more bloodshed” to come. Under North Carolina law, the burden would be on Cawthorn to prove he did not give “aid or comfort” to insurrectionists.

Since the House select committee is reluctant to use subpoena powers to force testimony from one of its own members, the courts might be the ideal place to answer the question of whether right-wing members of Congress supported the insurrection.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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